Converging Interstices

Or, “Delmar” and The Immortality of Influence

(excerpts)


Edward Breitweiser 2011



Generously Presented By

The Center for Research and Archival Practices at The Institute for Arts and Culture




INTRODUCTION


When my sister was in high school, she decided to rearrange the bookshelves in her bedroom. Rather, when she was in high school, my sister rearranged the bookshelves in her bedroom; I cannot adjudge precisely when she decided to rearrange her bookshelves. (The precise moment when she decided to rearrange her bookshelves will likely be unimportant, but the fact that I cannot know when it occurred will likely conclude this project.) While removing a small stack of books that had once been my mother's from the shelf on which the books had been sitting for as long as they had been there (which had certainly been a long time, since my mother had moved to the house as a teenager), a brittle, tea-colored slip of paper fell into a small strip of dust on the now-bookless shelf. This slip of paper did not have any markings on it; more to the point, it did not have any writing on it. Upon regarding it as empty, my sister threw away the slip of paper before the end of the day. She could think of no reason to bring this event to the attention of anyone until well after I had begun conducting research for this project. Rather, she did not bring this event to the attention of anyone until well after I had begun conducting research for this project; I cannot adjudge precisely when she decided to think of a reason to bring this event to the attention of anyone.



I.


Almost two years ago, I received a call from a close friend who had recently moved to a small town in Maryland called Delmar, right on the border with Delaware.1 Before unpacking their belongings, he and his fiancée had thoroughly cleaned their new home, which included a small crawlspace off of the boiler room in the basement. While my friend was out, "running errands,"2 his fiancée cleaned the crawlspace. During this time, she had found a handful of scattered items that had been left in the crawlspace by previous inhabitants: a mug from Bethlehem (New York, not Palestine); a Canadian-style pipe with pronounced teeth marks on the bit; a broom head; a pink sports car for girls' dolls that were, “slightly larger than a Barbie figurine”3; corroded batteries; a University of Tennessee pennant that had faded to a soft peach color; some, “very nice fake tortoise shell buttons that were nearly the same [style as those found] on one of [her] jackets”4; a reel of 1/4" magnetic tape; and, a few other forgettable items that she discarded into the trash without, "so much as a second thought."5 She also threw away the corroded batteries and broom head, but upon later questioning could remember having found these batteries and broom head in the crawlspace along with the other items, named and unnamable. Apart from those items that I just described as having been thrown away and which we must continue on without further knowledge of, and the doll car which she thought could be given to my friend's (her fiancé's) niece, the remaining items (for reference, the mug, pipe, pennant, buttons, and magnetic tape) were placed in a box that she placed on the kitchen counter. My friend insists that he found this box in this place when he returned from his errands later in the afternoon. After some discussion with his fiancée regarding the future of the contents of this box, which both insist was conducted by yelling (albeit "constructively and supportively," or, "benignly and without spite"6) back and forth from the kitchen to the upstairs master bathroom, he removed the buttons and the mug before tossing the box into the rented dumpster in their driveway. The following is the testimonial of my friend. I apologize on his behalf for the swearing; I hope you'll forgive my apparent unprofessionalism :

   

 "...[and] I was walking back to the house when it dawned on me that you might want the tape for your research or just to use it for whatever. It looks shitty - like, bent and shit - but, I don't know. I don't have a reel-to-reel to play it back to you to see if it sounds alright, but I know that tape can be hard to get [now] so I ran back and grabbed it for you and [I] almost pissed my pants because there was this fucking raccoon in the box already even though I'd only just put it there like, 2 seconds before. […] He seriously scared the fucking shit out of me, man, you don't even know. Such a dick move for a raccoon. I didn't know raccoons could be such sophisticated bloody terrorists. It must be a Maryland thing. […] What? […] Yeah. […] Yeah, I put it in the mail to you on Tuesday. Ok?"7


His fiancée maintains this same story, with the caveat that she cannot prove the presence or motives of the raccoon in the box, although she insists that her fiancé was, "quite shaken" as a result of the alleged encounter with the accused varmint.8

The following week, after missing the FedEx delivery man (or woman) two days in a row, I received the spool of tape. Upon receiving the tape, I photographically documented it.

My friend was right; the tape itself was not in good shape, as it had not been preserved well, but I was able to play it back on my father's old reel-to-reel player that he acquired while stationed in Saigon.

(I transferred the tape to my computer, and have provided an excerpt for the reader.9 I now ask that the reader listen to the excerpt of Delmar Audio Document 001. The reader may continue to read while listening to the recording.)

          This noisy sound continues unchanged for the entire duration of the tape, which is nearly 1,500 feet long and ends as if the tape was ripped by hand from a longer piece of tape. I spliced the damaged end of the tape and repaired it so that it could be spooled properly.

After archiving the tape by recording and photographing it digitally, I sent it (along with the damaged end of the tape) to a tape preservation specialist whose services I frequently employ for my research and asked him for a quick analysis of the tape. The following information comes from his report:

     

Hey Eddie,

Hope all is wel (sic). Heres (sic) the run-down on hte (sic) tape you sent:


Spool is BASF brand & standard consumer qualty (sic). From early '70s; tape seems to be, as well, (didnt [sic] get sticky, which is usualy [sic] found in BASF) but could have been respooled. Yes, the tape was ripped by hand; there are fingerprints near the end that caught some dust, but they're smeared. Plus the tapes (sic) all bent up, which doesnt (sic) help ID them. The noise is typical of demagnetized tape; ran it through some digital filters and isolated a male voice. Couldnt (sic) make out specific words, but got a consistent spectrogram (see attachment)10. Hope this helps.

     

     

Also, showed it to P____ to see if he could ID the label. He could only make out the word 'Delmar', which had been typewritten without any ink. Will put the reel back in the mail tomorrow.

Don't sweat paying; didn't have to run 'real' tests. Make me mac & cheese next time I'm up in R.P. Will get drinks soon.


Take care,

F____”11


     

Although his records indicate that he mailed the reel back to me on Monday, I never received the package and have not seen the reel in nearly two years. Unfortunately, I have no clues as to its whereabouts, and am left with these photographs and this digitally archived recording of the reel's contents. At this point, I like to urge people to make a point to keep multiple copies of all of their documents.



VIII.


My mother's father, Delmer Walker, was an officer in the U.S. Navy. After studies at the University of Tennessee, he was stationed in the Pacific during World War II. He met my grandmother, Velma Bond, at a party while he was on leave in Chicago.

          

After they were married, they moved to Central Illinois. Both are now deceased and my parents currently own their old house. I lived in this house from 1996 to 2005. Even though he was born and raised in Kentucky, I always found it appropriate that a man named Delmer was in the Navy. After college, I briefly lived in an apartment that was labeled "2C" and felt compelled to change its name to Delmer.



XVI.


Earlier this year, at my mother's request, I began the tedious task of cleaning out my childhood bedroom, which has remained largely unchanged since I left for college. Specifically, she wanted me to devise an organizational solution for all of my early art projects. Primarily, this will require parsing through a number of large boxes full of 35mm photo negatives and prints and a few dozen abstract paintings, plus developing a more thoughtful archival cataloguing system for my earliest musical scores and fragments of sketches of incomplete works. To date, I've been basking in the warmth of the fact that she failed to give me a firm deadline to finish this project, and have slowly chipped away at it during longer visits to my parents.

On one such visit during March 2011, I filled one box with photo prints from a trip to Washington D.C. that had distorted from the effects of the x-ray scanner at the airport and would be virtually unrecognizable to anyone except for me.

     

They had long ceased to be touristic artifacts, but I kept them because they served as intentionally inadvertent reminders that my memories of that trip were now memories of the first time I saw the inexplicably inexplicable photos, the souvenirs of souvenirs. My mother had cleared out a space in the attic for me to place these boxes, which seemed reasonable, so I carted this box up to the attic and left it in the clearing. 

On my way out of the attic, I found a bag of stuffed animals that my sister and I had used as children. The bag was sitting near a small trunk that I had never noticed before, but superficially resembled a trunk that a friend had recently begun to use as an attractive coffee table in his apartment, so I wrested it forward to have a look at it. 

I immediately realized that it wasn't in as good of shape as I thought, and due to age and water damage was definitively unsuitable as a piece of functional furniture. But the latches weren't locked, so I opened it up to inspect the interior, finding somewhat to my surprise (though one who conducts research should begin to expect such surprises) that the trunk contained nothing but a stack of blank paper (initially, I suspected that there were six hundred sheets) and a reel of 1/4" magnetic audio tape. I removed the paper and tape and left the trunk where it was. Neither of my parents could offer any substantial claims about the history of the trunk or its contents, although my father noted that the contents, "smell[ed] like an attic."12 I received permission to bring the contents of the trunk back to Chicago, but we were all in agreement that the trunk was best suited to remaining in the attic.

The tape was able to be played on my father's old reel-to-reel player. Wary of losing documents in the mail again, I transferred the recording to my computer and took photographic documentation of the tape before conducted my own analysis of the trunk's contents according to the example of my colleagues F. and P. The following points are those that I consider to be noteworthy.

(I have provided an excerpt of the recording for the reader.13 I now ask that the reader listen to the excerpt of Delmar Audio Document 002. The reader may continue to read while listening to the recording.)


Tape

In remarkably good condition, despite the water damage on the trunk.

Reel is unlabeled, but has a Maxell logo on it. 

Non-sticky, which should indicate that the tape was fairly well-preserved. May also indicate that the tape was BASF brand and transferred to a new reel.

Tape is approximately 1,600 feet long.

Audio contents do not vary significantly for the duration of this tape. Noise consistent with demagnetization.

Apart from noise, spectrogram indicates that recording was likely of male voice.

     


     Sheets of Paper

8.5"x11" sheets.

All heavily water damaged.

Impossible to accurately count the individual sheets, as so many have stuck together and separating them would destroy them. As best as I can determine, there are between 520 and 590 individual sheets.

All observable pages contain no markings. Specifically, no pages contain any writing. In other words, I am not able to see ink on any of the pages.


I have delivered these documents, along with my analysis, to my colleague F. and indicated that, if appropriate, he pass along the sheets of paper to P. Before delivering them (by hand, this time, not by mail) to F., I backed up all of the digital documentation related to this project. I'm still waiting on the official report from F.


Endnotes


 Delmarva Digital, “Town of Delmar,” Town of Delmar, MD, accessed November 16, 2011, http://www.townofdelmar.us.

2 Personal friend (identity withheld by request), phone call to author, January 14, 2010.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Information on the digital copy can be found in Appendix II (“Notes on Audio Recordings”), under “Delmar Audio Document (D.A.D.) 001”.

10 For more information on spectrograms, see Appendix III (“Notes on Spectrograms”).

11 Personal friend (identity withheld by request), email to author, February 21, 2010.

12 Father of author (identity withheld by request), conversation with author, March 9, 2011.

13 Information on the digital copy can be found in Appendix II, under “Delmar Audio Document (D.A.D.) 002”.




Bibliography


Delmarva Digital. “Town of Delmar.” Town of Delmar, Maryland. Accessed November 16, 2011. http://www.townofdelmar.us/

Father of author (identity withheld by request). Conversation with author. March 9, 2011.

Personal friend (identity withheld by request). Phone call to author. January 14, 2010.

Personal friend (identity withheld by request, referred to as “F.”). Email to author. February 21, 2010.

Unknown author. Delmar Audio Document 001. Digital copy of ¼-inch audio tape. Edited by Edward Breitweiser. Unknown date. Chicago: Edward Breitweiser, 2010. Digital audio recording.

Unknown author. Delmar Audio Document 002. Digital copy of ¼-inch audio tape. Edited by Edward Breitweiser. Unknown date. Chicago: Edward Breitweiser, 2011. Digital audio recording.



Appendices


I. Images


All images used in this document are contained in the author’s personal archives.


<Figure 1-1> Tape from Delmar, MD. Note the sticker that contains the number "30". (Photo credit: Author, 2010)

<Figure 1-2> Delmar Audio Document 001. Detail. (Photo credit: Author, 2010)

<Figure 1-3> Email from F____. Detail. (Screen capture credit: Author, 2011)

<Figure 1-4> Spectrogram of the original Delmar Audio Document 001 recording. (Image credit: Author, 2011)

<Figure 1-5> Spectrogram of the Delmar Audio Document 001 recording after noise-removal and restoration processes. (Image credit: Author, 2011)


<Figure 8-1> Velma Bond and Delmer Walker in Chicago, Illinois. (Unknown photographer, circa 1945.)

<Figure 8-2> Velma Bond (left). (Unknown photographer, circa 1945.)

<Figure 8-3> Velma Bond on the deck of a U.S. naval vessel. (Unknown photographer [likely Delmer Walker], circa 1945.)


<Figure 16-1> (Photo credit: Author, 2005)

<Figure 16-2> (Photo credit: Author, 2005)

<Figure 16-3> The trunk in the author’s parents’ attic. (Photo credit: Author, 2011)

<Figure 16-4> The tape that was found in the trunk in the author’s parents’ attic. (Photo credit: Author, 2011)

<Figure 16-5> Spectrogram of the original Delmar Audio Document 002 recording. Note that the reason it appears that there is no frequency content is because the entire recording occurs below 100 Hz. (Image credit: Author, 2011)

<Figure 16-6> Spectrogram of the Delmar Audio Document 002 recording after noise-removal and restoration processes. Note the similarity of its spectral content to the cleaned Delmar Audio Document 001 recording. (Image credit: Author, 2011)



II. Notes on Audio Recordings


This paper references three audio recordings from my personal archive. I have made digital excerpts of these recordings available for the purposes of this project.


<01_telephone_testimonial.wav>

Personal friend (identity withheld by request). Phone call to author. January 14, 2010.

Digital audio file: 01_telephone_testimonial.wav

Length: 46 seconds

Notes: Excerpts from a telephone conversation between the author and a personal friend. The conversation was edited to suit the purposes of this project.

<02_DAD_001.wav>

Unknown author. Delmar Audio Document 001. Digital copy of ¼-inch audio tape. Edited by Edward Breitweiser. Unknown date. Chicago: Edward Breitweiser, 2010. Digital audio recording.

Digital audio file: 02_DAD_001.wav

Length: 2 minutes and 34 seconds

Notes: Excerpt of the “30” tape from Delmar, MD. Digitally archived as a .wav file shortly before the original tape was lost.


<03_DAD_002.wav>

Unknown author. Delmar Audio Document 002. Digital copy of ¼-inch audio tape. Edited by Edward Breitweiser. Unknown date. Chicago: Edward Breitweiser, 2011. Digital audio recording.

Digital audio file: 03_DAD_002.wav

Length: 4 minutes and 32 seconds

Notes: Excerpt of the tape from author’s parents’ attic. Digitally archived as a .wav file. The original tape is presently in my personal archive.




III. Notes on Spectrograms


A spectrogram is an image that displays the frequency content of a signal. Typically, they are used to identify the relative strengths and weaknesses of specific frequencies in an audio signal. Among many other practical applications, spectrograms can be useful in the identification of audio sources, such as musical instruments or human voices.





E.W.B.

Chicago, 2011

1 Delmarva Digital, “Town of Delmar,” Town of Delmar, MD, accessed November 16, 2011, http://www.townofdelmar.us.


2 Personal friend (identity withheld by request), phone call to author, January 14, 2010.


3 Ibid.


4 Ibid.


5 Ibid.


6 Ibid.


7 Ibid.


8 Ibid.


9 Information on the digital copy can be found in Appendix II (“Notes on Audio Recordings”), under “Delmar Audio Document (D.A.D.) 001”.


10 For more information on spectrograms, see Appendix III (“Notes on Spectrograms”).


11 Personal friend (identity withheld by request), email to author, February 21, 2010.


12 Father of author (identity withheld by request), conversation with author, March 9, 2011.


13 Information on the digital copy can be found in Appendix II, under “Delmar Audio Document (D.A.D.) 002”.